What's behind insomnia?

What hides behind insomnia?

Anyone who reads these lines and has never had insomnia raise their hand! Insomnia is very common in our society. If you have already taken more than 20 to 30 minutes to fall asleep, have woken up in the middle of the night or much too early without being able to go back to sleep, you have already been introduced to insomnia. But do you really know what the term means?

There isn’t just one type of insomnia…

Insomnia is more common than you think. According to the NHS, 1 out of 3 people in the UK are affected, especially the elderly.

Insomnia refers to the inability of falling asleep or going back to sleep after waking up at night or early in the morning. Insomnia is diverse and versatile and can be primary or secondary.

  • Primary insomnia is just sleeplessness appearing on its own.
  • Secondary insomnia is actually a symptom of a different medical condition, which is often ignored.

Let’s imagine that Mark often wakes up in the middle of the night and starts counting sheep for several hours. He assumes that he suffers from insomnia. In the meantime, Mark was woken up by his own brain as a defensive mechanism because he had difficulty breathing in his sleep. In this case, insomnia is secondary as a symptom of a respiratory disorder. The diagnosis and treatment of this disorder will put an end to his insomnia.

Insomnia can also be acute. In other words, it may occur for a short-term and be caused by a one-time event. It may also be a chronic condition. Chronic insomnia is diagnosed when the syndrome occurs for more than three nights per week for at least one month. It is the latter form that has the biggest impact on health. Sleep no longer provides enough rest and the lack of it begins to have negative effects on personal life, relationships and work.

Causes of insomnia: lifestyle, psychological and environmental factors

The contributing factors may be physical and/or psychological.

The physical factors include pursuing an unhealthy lifestyle, such as lack of physical exercise and alcohol or drug abuse. It could also be attributed to restless leg syndrome (a neurological disorder characterised by an uncontrollable urge to move the legs), sleep apnoea, chronic pain and illness, as well as, the use of certain medication. Psychological factors include stress, anxiety (with the mental distress it causes) and depression.

Insomnia may also be triggered by environmental factors, such as exposure to blue screens in the evening, consumption of caffeine in the afternoon, playing sports late in the day and even bedroom conditions, when the room is not dark, quiet or cool enough.

What are the consequences?

The most obvious symptom of insomnia is lack of sleep, which results in various health problems. Poor sleep leads to morning tiredness and fatigue, drowsiness throughout the day, memory problems, difficulty in concentration, irritability, and a growing anxiety of approaching bedtime.

In the long-term, the risks become graver and more dangerous. In fact, after several years of fighting fatigue, we are more likely to suffer from chronic anxiety, fibromyalgia syndrome (widespread muscles and joints pain) and poor overall health. No part of the body gets spared the pain caused by lack of sleep, nonetheless, first and foremost it affects the heart. Undeniable, nonrestorative sleep causes a disruption of the cardiovascular system!


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